Virgin Mary breastfeeding Jesus

Virgin Mary breastfeeding Jesus
Nursing Madonna (wikimedia commons)

Monday, September 5, 2016

What Nursing Mothers Can Learn from Saint Mother Teresa

Thumbnail for version as of 01:41, 12 May 2007 

When I was newly married, I wanted to become a Lay Missionary of Charity.  I was inspired by Mother Teresa and her sisters' charism and love for the poorest of the poor.  I even corresponded for a short time with one of Mother Teresa's US  sisters.  However, I had a difficult time finding a spiritual director who understood how a married woman could make the promises of obedience, chastity, poverty, and special dedication to the poor.  Then, I found myself excitedly expecting a baby about the time of the next Lay Missionaries of Charity retreat on the east coast.  I wouldn't be able to attend so close to my due date or with a nursing baby in tow.  God seemed to be leading somewhere else.  I kept searching and three years later, I heard about the Holy Family Institute which seemed a better fit for me.  

Even since making perpetual vows in the Holy Family Institute, I still love Saint Mother Teresa.  After asking others online about their favorite book on Mother Teresa, I realized that I am sort of a Mother Teresa groupie in a way :)

What can nursing mothers learn from Saint Mother Teresa?  Well, it turns out, more than you would think.  

She valued silence.  In order to hear the whisper of God's voice in our hearts, we need at least a little bit of time away from the noise of our busy households and the noise of the internet, TV, and society.  Eucharistic adoration is a great way to find that silence.  You can even bring a nursing baby to an adoration hour!  Another lifesaver for me has been an hour or two at the local coffee shop or library twice a week.  When I had a nursing baby, I took him/her with me.  Sometimes I bring a more secular book or magazine, but often I bring a spiritual book and a notebook.  I get so many insights that I do not seem to get when at home taking care of my family.  However, even if you simply cannot leave the house to find silence, Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle suggests the following in her book, Mother Teresa and Me: Ten Years of Friendship:

"A mother can find silence even within the noise of her household - in the busyness of caring for her children, folding laundry, cooking a meal, or washing dishes - when she looks inward and offers her heart to God.  I am not suggesting she become oblivious to what she is doing, especially when caring for children.  This is a different kind of silence.  While folding a load of laundry, cooking her family's dinner, or nursing a baby, a mother can become meditative, raising her heart to God and thanking Him for the privilege of serving Him as she serves her family within her vocation of motherhood."

Saint Mother Teresa also recommended and lived simplicity.  I have always been attracted to simplicity.  It is difficult to put simplicity fully into practice with children, though.  Ecological breastfeeding definitely simplified the early days of caring for my babies.  All I needed was a king sized bed (we bed shared in a queen for several years, too), a stroller and baby carrier (many moms carry their babies primarily in slings or front packs - I did, too, sometimes - but I also enjoyed having a stroller), a car seat, and some baby clothes and diapers.  That sure simplified the baby gear we needed!  Now that my kids are older, simplification is something I always strive for but never seem to fully reach!  I have a feeling, our school aged kids would not be too happy if we converted our houses into a Missionaries of Charity convent!  So how can we simplify?  By going through our cupboards, the kids' toys, our closets to see what we actually use and donating/selling the rest.  When I go to a store, I try to think about if I really need an item or if I already have something similar.  Membership in the Holy Family Institute has simplified my spiritual life.  Even in homeschooling, I seek out simplicity by focusing on the basics and all the fun things the kids want to learn about.  Donna-Marie also suggests simple words and gestures can touch people more than we will ever know and this includes our family members!  It can be easy to say something positive to a stranger but very difficult to say something positive to our child who has been trying our nerves all day!

Saint Mother Teresa emphasized service.  Mothers serve 24/7!  However, maybe you have the tendency - like I do sometimes - to not serve as cheerfully as you should?  I am trying to work on that aspect as I type this post!  Mother Teresa also taught that we need to serve our families first before going out into the community.  I have trouble with this one, too, occasionally and then I wear myself out trying to serve everyone!  Also, we need to serve ourselves by creating the necessary downtime to refresh our bodies, minds and souls.

Another part of the Missionaries of Charity spirituality is love.  Motherhood and nursing babies is all about love!  No explanation needed!

Prayer and faith are more aspects of her spirituality.  Most families pray and attend the sacraments and Mass together.  I would guess that most moms have private prayer time, too.  I, personally, like devotionals.  That is one reason I added a little devotional section to my book, Getting Started with Breastfeeding: For Catholic Mothers.  I like to pray in the shower, because it is one of the few quiet times I have.  However, there is usually at least one child who needs me "urgently" when I am showering and getting dressed for the day.  You do what you can do.   The important thing is to find your best times to pray in the midst of you loving and serving your family, practicing your sacramental life, and attempting to live simply and find silence in the the center of all the chaos.